Thursday, November 28, 2013

"On The Road" to Super Lap Battle 2013

Jack Kerouac is one of the most prolific authors of the American Beat Generation and is famous for his classic novel "On The Road" depicting his epic journey from coast to coast in post WWII America. His Americana masterpiece is a must read and quite possibly one of my favorite books. I begin this post about my 5,000 mile plus journey from Charlotte, NC to Buttonwillow, CA and back for the biggest Time Attack event on this side of the globe, with a brief summary of Jack Kerouac because anything I write about my epic journey would never be as profound as the words written by him. Im not the greatest racer and i'm certainly not the greatest writer so I will let Jack do some of the talking for me as he so eloquently describes things that couldn't be more perfectly parallel to my own experiences. This trip is something I will never forget as long as I live. Driving cross country is truly something everyone should do at least once in their lives, but you most likely wont want to do it again... at least not for a long time. Now on with the story...

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” 
-- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

SuperLap Battle is the premier Time Attack event in North America. Hosted by SORC Interlink Media (Super Street Magazine, Import Tuner, Modified Magazine etc.) and run by Global Time Attack this year would be the 10th annual event being held at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in the middle of absolutely nowhere Buttonwillow, CA. For the last ten years this tight, technical and undulating track in the middle of a dry field / desert nightmare has been the battleground for the best Time Attack cars on this side of the globe. When I decided to build my InfinitiG35 many years ago for TA it was with a long term dream of one day being one of the cars I saw in the magazines competing at the highest level at SLB. Fast forward to January 2013 and in the spirit of that same dream I was crazy enough to put SLB on my schedule and tell my sponsors I would be there, essentially forcing myself to go no matter what (still having no clue how I would get there). And boy am I glad I followed through, the result wasn’t what we wanted but the journey made it worth while.

It was a tough 2013 season leading up to the event but with all of the issues that plagued the beginning of our season finally solved, we believed the #44 G35 would be more than capable of going to California and showing what the East coast has to offer. With help from all of our sponsors we were able to make the trek cross country and back to compete in the Limited RWD class. We appreciate all of our sponsors equally but this specific event wouldn't have happened without the over the top support from Turbo By Garrett, SOHOMotorsports, Computech and everyone else who played an integral part in making it happen. Also I have an extra special shout-out to my family for supporting me through it all and especially my good friend Tim Seigh who made the whole trip possible by riding shotgun and keeping me sane on the verrrrrry long adventure that is driving coast to coast in America.

“...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...”  
Jack Kerouac, On The Road

SuperLap Battle for some odd reason is held on a Thursday every year (maybe to help with the long travel). This year it was held on Thursday, November 14th, and that was fine by me because it allowed the trip for us East coast guys to be a Sunday to Sunday thing. Unfortunately for me that Sunday to Sunday thing went out the window quickly. I originally had multiple people committed to come with me on the trip but at the very last minute they disappointingly backed out and left me without a solution. I almost didn’t have someone to go with me until at the very last second at midnight Monday morning with the race less than 72 hours away and a 37+hour drive ahead, my good buddy Tim showed up all the way from the most eastern part of NC; the Outer Banks, just to come to California with me. I will owe him for this for a very long time and was glad he was the one who came.

With the G35 loaded on the trailer and the Chevy Silverado 2500 fueled and packed to the brim with tools, ramps, supplies, race fuel and luggage we were finally On The Road. With the event only 72 hours away and wanting to get there with enough time to relax before the event I knew that I would have to jam in a lot of driving hours and ignore sleep completely. Fueled by 5 Hour Energy and Monster my first driving stint was nearly 24 hours straight with a 1 hour nap at a rest stop somewhere in the middle. In the first day alone we went through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia in the dark of early morning. Through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma during the perfect autumn day and into what is quite possibly the most miserable place on earth at night (and in the day, who am I kidding); North Texas.

The drive from NC to OK was pretty straight forward and somewhat familiar. I had driven as far as Alabama for events a Barber Motorsports Park and although this was further it was still a smooth and easy drive. Either way the weather was great, and it seemed as though we were watching the leaves change color as we drove through each state from the rolling hills of Bama into the flat farm lands in the heart of America. Along with the scenery there was very little traffic due to the Monday holiday of Veterans Day making the drive fast, very fast. All of that easy sailing changed almost immediately as the sun went down somewhere in North East Texas. We knew the weather was going to get a bit worse but what was coming neither Tim nor I could have expected. Within minutes of doing our usual 80+mph cruise on the Interstate the Texas weather decided it was going to take out its anger on me for being a Redskins fan and decided to whip up 30mph cross winds across its baron flat surface for miles and miles along with sideways rain, sleet and freezing weather. Driving past tractor trailer after tractor trailer at 80mph to maintain pace all while having not slept for nearly two days was quite possibly the most terrifying experience in my life. The weather, tractor trailers and I were battling for hours and hours and it might have been my finest piece of driving ever, whether on or off track. I wish I had GoPro video of how much I was sawing at the wheel every time the 30mph+ cross wind would slam into me upon passing a truck. I tried for as long as I could to maintain my sanity and safety until I finally decided I could risk our lives no longer and we settled for the night at a terrible motel in Vega, Texas.

But before I could settle in for some well deserved sleep I had a problem; the weather and freezing rain had frozen the entire front end of the G35 and with antifreeze not allowed at race tracks we had a water mixture in the engine cooling system that was susceptible to freezing and possibly cracking the engine block and/or radiator core. I had to go out in the ice storm and drain the coolant mixture in the parking lot of the motel at 3am while it sat on the trailer, freezing to death. I did it just in time too considering there was already ice chunks in the radiator filler neck. With that worry out of my mind I hit the hay way later than I wanted only to wake up before the sun rose in just a few hours.

“Texas is undeniable...We were already almost out of America and yet definitely in it and in the middle of where it's maddest.” 
-- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

With an early Texas start we were back on the road, braving the wind once again but without the sleet. It was still as cold as can be but at least we could see in front of us and we actually had traction. Texas seemed like it took forever just to go through the Northern tip so I can only imagine what going through the heartland is like. If they could make a bridge over Texas I would be the first to take it, yes TX is that bad haha but I knew the best part of the journey was just a few hours ahead. I had always wanted to see the beautiful rock formations of New Mexico and Arizona but I wasn’t prepared for how impressive it actually was. Pictures really don’t do this place justice. I was just going down I-40 and no where near the best tourist viewing spots like the Grand Canyon and yet I was still blown away by the natural painting that kept refreshing in front of us with every bend of the highway. It was nothing short of spectacular and the best of what America has to offer. Along with the better views the weather also began to get warmer the further west we got. We drove through the day from Texas all the way to Barstow, CA. The sunset behind the plateaus of Arizona and the rolling peaks of California was quite possibly one of the most impressive sites I have ever had the privilege of seeing with my own eyes. I tried taking photos but nothing could ever capture the red and gold glow of the sunset over the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada’s. Its crazy how a simple view can put life into perspective. 

I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that's why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon.” 
-- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

The next morning we slept in a bit and finished out the relatively short drive from Barstow to Buttonwillow, CA to find a track placed in just like everyone described; the middle of absolutely nowhere. There is no grass, no trees, no nothing. Just pavement and dirt. 18 technical turns of concrete and tons upon tons of slippery dust for as far as the eye can see. After signing in and unloading the G we got her all cleaned up, put on the bumper, replaced the coolant and got her ready for battle which was now less than 18 hours away. With not much else to do and a wallet not deep enough to buy into the $650 test day we hung out with some fellow drivers and teams discussing the track and later began the pre race festivities with some good friends and sponsors that we hadn’t seen since Road Atlanta earlier in the year (sponsored by the Yuengling I brought for the West coast guys who love it but cant get it out there). After setup was complete and the cooler was empty we ventured over to the infamous Willow Ranch Restaurant for dinner and then settled in for a good night sleep before the big race the next day. I was ecstatic to finally be at our destination and I was ready to race at my very first Super Lap Battle. I may have been running on zero energy but the adrenaline was keeping me alive and ready to go racing. It was time to finally fulfill my 5 year journey to Super Lap Battle!

Race morning came quickly and we got to the track at sunrise to find that dozens of teams had arrived overnight. It was obvious there was a bit more than the 60 cars who were pre-registered and it was shaping up to be one of the biggest SLB's yet with the competition in our class, Limited RWD, looking to be the toughest out of all the classes with 11 drivers in the field. Super Lap Battle was limited to 60 cars and three classes per drivetrain including Unlimited, Limited and Street. We were in the middle level class and on rules mandate 80 tread wear street tires but with the likes of Platte Forme AG's insanely fast BMW driven by Tyler McQuarie in my class along with a ton of other drivers and teams who knew the course like the back of their hand, we knew it was going to be a tough battle for our first time at such a tricky track. Even with all that adversity we still thought we could stand a fighting chance at making the podium.

After a quick driver's meeting and some warm up laps to seed us in the three run groups the 2013 Super Lap Battle at Buttonwillow Raceway was finally underway! I would be lying if I didn’t say I was pretty damn nervous/anxious. I was running on zero sleep, just drove 2600 miles across the country, was at the biggest race i've ever been to and at a track thats about as tricky as i've ever seen and covered in dust to make it even worse. The odds were certainly stacked against us for our first time at Buttonwillow and the learning curve was a steep one we had to climb but literally on my first hot lap that all went out the window and it became even harder. In the first session on my first hot lap I had an innocent spin after going into Cotton Corner a bit too fast as I was still trying to feel out the course. With no help from the worthless, on that day at least, corner marshals I got back on track cleanly after checking my mirrors over and over. After getting back up to speed and multiple cars checking up and safely passing the dust cloud that was my G without incident I became to pick up speed and head into Club Corner. Unfortunately upon entry I got hit from behind going into turn by someone trying to shoot the gap that wasn’t there, jump the curbing and run into my right rear fender and diffuser. It was a bit of both our faults as I shouldn’t have been in the spot I was but he also should have checked up like every other driver would have done in that situation, it would have saved us both some headache. Sadly I did check my mirrors multiple times right before it happened as I can see in the on board video but unfortunately he was right in a blind spot, but he certainly could see me! After some handy work with a hammer, some video tape review with the GTA crew and a damage check on both cars we were soon back out on track in the next session.

With SLB being only a one day event and having zero experience there, each session was huge for me to learn the track and figure out what the car needed. It would be hard to do it on a normal two day race let alone only 4 sessions in just a few hours, one of which had already gone down the drain. With the 2nd session I knew I had to forget about the drama of the first session and push as hard as I could to learn the track and sort the car out to make sure there was no damage from the contact. After a few good laps of learning the flow of the track I quickly realized that a sway bar adjustment in the rear would be needed to help the car roll some more in an effort to keep the rear Hankook Ventus TD's from sliding all over the dust covered racing surface on the undulating tight turns. I finished the session carefully and came into the pits to make the adjustments and focus on the remaining two sessions which was sure to be the fastest of the day.

With half of the race day over and without having put down a decent lap yet I knew it was make or break time in session 3. The track was starting to go away a bit from the sun beating down on it and the massive amounts of dirt on it from people pushing a bit to hard like I had in session 1. But luckily in this session I got to start in the front and didn’t see much traffic and began to get into the swing of things going faster and faster each lap until I pushed a bit to hard again, this time going into the front straight I got 4 wheels off at a pretty good pace but instead of spinning, I just kept my foot in it and got back on track and kept on going. It certainly wasn’t the fastest way to finish out the session but it sure made for a good video intro as you can see from the video above haha. With finally having a decent session under my belt and becoming comfortable with the track I was anxious for the last session and hoping to find a ton of time that I knew was still out there and hopefully be in the top 5 since I was currently in a pretty pathetic 8th place.

After a short break, fuel up and tire pressure adjustment I was back on track for the fourth and final session of the day, ready to give Buttonwillow all I had and all that the car would give me. At this point it was pretty obvious to me that the car's suspension setup that was fast around the flowing east coast tracks I love was not going to cut it at the technical CW13. And no matter how much I could have learned in one day it probably wasn’t going to be enough to get below the infamous 2 minute mark. With my head held high and as focused as ive ever been I set out on my last session at SLB with the intentions of getting my fastest time under the worst track conditions of the day and hopefully salvaging what had been a pretty rough day at the track. Usually I take my hot lap on the 2nd lap and then cool down on the third but in this session I decided after a decent 2nd lap to go even harder on the 3rd lap and 4th lap to give her all I had since I had already come this far. With a few slides here and there I was making what I thought to be a good lap time until I caught up with some traffic at the end of the lap and crossed the finish line in a pretty dismal but fastest time of the day for me at 2:03xx. I had picked up over 2 seconds on the last session alone, showing me that the time was there and I just needed more experience at Buttonwillow and the car needs a slightly different setup.

Raceday was finally a wrap and the awards ceremony over we ended up placing 7th out of 12 in Limited RWD at the 2013 Super Lap Battle in Buttonwillow, California. It wasn’t anywhere near the position I wanted to place and far from the podium but at the end of the day we came 2,600 miles and drove 37 hours each way to come to the biggest Time Attack race in North America, that alone was a huge success! We may not have won a trophy but we had certainly won in our own way. It had been a long time coming and the journey to my first cross country race is something I will never forget for as long as I live. Im proud of myself even for that dismal 7th place finish and i'm proud of the car and team for getting me this far. I cant wait until the 2014 Super Lap Battle event to redeem myself and if you are reading this then you know damn well we will take everything we have learned from this outing and will be back and ready to go faster than ever!

I had traveled eight thousand miles around the American continent and I was back on Times Square; and right in the middle of a rush hour, too, seeing with my innocent road-eyes the absolute madness and fantastic hoorair of New York with its millions and millions hustling forever for a buck among themselves, the mad dream-grabbing, taking, giving, sighing, dying, just so they could be buried in those awful cemetery cities beyond Long Island City.” 
-- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

The journey to the track and raceday was only two-third's of the whole adventure. We were on just as tight of a schedule getting back to the east coast. My co-pilot for the week, Tim, had to be back at his hometown in the Outerbanks, NC on the Atlantic Ocean by Sunday night for work the next day. Friday morning with a sense of fulfilled accomplishment, a bit of dissapointment, a slight hangover and a brighter outlook on life we began the 2,600 mile journey back to good ole Carolina. This write up has been long enough already so I wont go on to long about the return except to note that the entire way back it was 30mph winds and torrential downpours making the drive back even more miserable than our westward drive through Texas. Luckily we got back mid day Sunday after making insane time and without me sleeping barely at all. We were both happy to be back and fulfilled knowing what we had just accomplished. It was an amazing experience driving cross country for a race and back in under 7 days but certainly not something I look forward to doing again anytime soon haha. I think a cargo trailer and a plane ticket are in order for next year. To make things even better the second I got back I made plans to go to Florida to race for the NARRA USTT Finale at Sebring Raceway just 5 days later, in an effort to help make up for the poor performance in California, so be on the look out for that soon. Until then please check out the video from the event above and also view the facebook photo album here.

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